Corine Forward’s (C’19) studies abroad in Ghana and course on Blacks and Jews in America inspire her to research one of the most obscure and isolated communities in the world – a Ghanaian Jewish community – for her senior thesis.
Corine Forward’s (C’19) fascination with identity concepts led her to research one of the most obscure and isolated communities in the world – a Jewish community in Ghana.
Forward, an English major from Oakland, California, decided to research the Sefwi-Wiaswo community in Ghana for her senior thesis after taking Blacks and Jews in America, a course taught by professors Jacques Berlinerblau and Terrence Johnson in her sophomore year.
Forward, who is minoring in Jewish civilization andAfrican American studies,says shehad little exposure to Jewish culture growing up in Oakland, but gained knowledge of the culture through her studies at Georgetown.
The senior spent the spring semester of her junior year abroad in Ghana, and as she began to consider topics for her thesis earlier this year, she found herself wondering if there were any Jewish communities in the African nation.
Jews of Color
“When we think of Judaism in America, we usually think of whiteness,” Forward says. “I wanted to examine where this puts Jews of color –especially these Ghanaian Jews, who are written off in a lot of the literature. It didn’t sit well with me, and I wanted to figure more of it out.”
Not only did Forward find that a Jewish community existed in the mostly Christian nation, she discovered there had been virtually no academic research associated with the community.
The Jewish Ghanaians of the Sefwi-Wiaswo region had been more or less treated as a “bit of trivia” in most books on the international spread of Judaism, Forward explains.
With multiple sources confirming the community’s existence and so little documentation about them, Forward’s advisors recommended she conduct on-the-ground research.
Trek Back to Ghana
Working with CJC director Berlinerblau and CJC chief of staff Anna Dubinsky, Forward produced a budget and secured funding for last-minute flights to and from Ghana this past October.
“I got a direct flight, arrived in Ghana, and surprised my host mom, who was so happy to see me,” Forward recalls. “My host aunt knew someone in the Sefwi area, so I got on the phone with him, and he agreed to help us out.”
An 11-hour bus ride later, she was making connections with community members through interviews and observation.
The community’s traditions date back for generations, she says, but they did not begin to identify as Jewish until 1976, when a local leader had a vision that his religious community was descended from one of the 12 tribes of Israel. The leader reached out to the nearest Israeli embassy, who helped him.
“They believe they’re Jews. They believe they are descendants of Abraham. That should be just as legitimate as the Judaism of people here,” Forward says. “They know the prayers, they’re learning Hebrew, they light the candles on the Sabbath, they celebrate the high holidays. They observe.”